This week’s dream: A reindeer festival in Swedish Lapland
“Jokkmokk, Sweden, is not, for most of the year, a compelling place to visit,” said Alice Gregory in The New York Times Magazine. Located just north of the Arctic Circle, the remote Lapland town of 3,000 remains snowy even in June. “But for a few days every winter, the place is transformed.” Each February for the past 400 years, the indigenous Sami people have celebrated their heritage with a colorful festival of song, dance, trading, feasting, and reindeer parades. These days, the Jokkmokk Winter Market attracts thousands from around the world, and the town’s two hotels are typically booked a year in advance. Last year, I got lucky: A bed at a local hostel opened up, so I rushed to Jokkmokk to participate in an arcane rite held in a place that “feels very much like the edge of the world.”
I knew Jokkmokk would be cold, but I was naïve about what negative 15 degrees actually feels like. Even in three pairs of ski socks and “so many wool sweaters I couldn’t move,” I wept, tears freezing to my face, as I walked to the market. Fortunately, the Sami have devised “the most effective antidote to winter I’ve ever encountered”: brightly colored, intricately patterned garb—capes, tunics, “extravagantly pompommed” hats, and fur boots with curled toes. “It’s clothing as psychological remedy.” The abundance of aquavit, glogg, and hearty food helped, too. Perusing stalls selling animal hides, antler knives, and leather mittens, I sampled reindeer meat in every conceivable form: raw, dried, smoked, minced, grilled, and in soup, meatballs, steaks, and burgers.
On my fourth day, some unknown mischief-maker entered me in a reindeer sled race. Hundreds of cheering spectators had gathered on the frozen lake outside town, and I did as I was told, gripping a rope while lying facedown in my fur-lined sled. A horn blew and my reindeer took off, kicking snow into my face. Some “shamefully small” amount of time later, we rounded a bend and I flew from the sled into a snow bank. I was instantly disqualified, losing my only shot at the grand prize: a pair of mounted antlers. I promptly brushed myself off, though, and turned back toward the market—“to vengefully eat reindeer.”
At Hotel Jokkmokk (hoteljokkmokk.se), doubles start at $265 during the festival.